Current Projects

Biodegradable Alternatives to Plastic Mulch

S. Rochefort, M. Santelmann, M. Andersen, C. Clark, D. DeGeorge, K. DiFrancesco, A. Doniger, I. Garretson, C. Holley, M. Ingman, G. Livingston, I. Miller, F. Plesa, R. Ponce, T. Selko, S. Walker & T.R. Woll

This is an EPA P3 (People, Prosperity, and the Planet) sponsored project to develop a biodegradable alternative to the plastic mulch sheets used in agriculture. The alternative mulch sheets are made with flax waste and various biodegradable binders. Soil conductivity, crop yield, and macroinvertebrate levels were analyzed last summer for a sodium alginate/flax combination mulch. Sodium alginate released an undesirable amount of sodium into the soil, so new binders are being explored.

Synovial Fluid Characterization

S. Rochefort, A.H. Haun, & J. Feist

Synovial fluid is found between your joints and provides lubrication for motion and cushion for cartilage protection. Each joint has a different concentration of sodium hyaluronate (HA), the major macromolecule in synovial fluid, which gives synovial fluid its viscoelastic properties. The goal of this project is to determine the concentration of HA in a synovial fluid sample and find correlation(s) to rheological properties. Potential systems to characterize and differentiate between each sample have been explored: (1) a Vilastic VE system, (2) a Capillary Breakup Extensional Rheometer (CaBER), (3) a Size Exclusion Chomatography - Multi-Angle Laser Light Scattering (SEC-MALLS) system, and (4) a Discovery Hybrid Rheometer (DHR).

Hydrogels for Spinal Disc Replacement

S. Rochefort, A. Reiter, K. Mockler-Martin, N. Meads, & E. Molitor

The goal of this research is to find a replacement for the nucleus pulposus in the spine to reduce herniated spinal disk pain. Removal of the protruding nucleus pulposus after the disk is herniated leaves a "flat tire" annulus fibrosus that needs to be refilled. This research hopes to identify a hydrogel material that can be injected arthroscopically to "re-inflate" the spinal disc after injury. A variety of thermal hydrogels were created and tested for both shear and compressive properties. Silicone foams infused with hydrogels were also studied in hopes of improving mechanical properties. NIPAAm materials (liquids at room temperature and gels at body temperature) are being explored. NIPAAm materials are promising due to their biocompatibility and unique flow and compressive behavior.

Recycled Insulation for Third World Countries

S. Rochefort, C. Rodman, K. Crossan, & M. Mockler-Martens

This project addresses both the problem of accumulation of plastic waste in third world countries as well as the lack of insulation for housing in those countries. The goal of this project is to produce insulation from the plastic waste with thermal resistivity values similar to commercially available insulation. The waste can be compressed by machine or with "people power" and help create jobs as well as clean up the environment. Plastic waste is compressed into insulation blocks and thermal resistivity of those blocks is measured with a custom-built Thermal Resistance Measurement System (TRMS). A home builder in the Yukon has collaborated with the lab and begun using this insulation.